Thursday, February 09, 2006

As the stomach turns

When I was a kid, I couldn't even get out of going to church by claiming a stomachache.
It's good enough for Justine Henin-Hardenne, though. She begged out of the Australian Open final on Saturday, handing the title over to Amelie Mauresmo. Mauresmo ended up pretty lucky in this tournament. Her third-round opponent had heat stroke and couldn't play, and Kim Clijsters got a tape job on her twisted ankle, hit one more ball, and decided to call it a major. So the big question about Mauresmo -- Has she gotten over her mental weakness? -- still really remains unanswered. But if she was still wrestling with doubt, having a big title under her belt should be a real boost.
Back to Henin-Hardenne. For someone who has dealt with several real injuries in her career, this is a surprise. Perhaps her stomach really was hurting. If it was, it might have had something to do with being pulled around the court and being unable to do much with the high balls coming to her one-handed backhand. I don't know how the exchange with the trainer went, but it should have gone like this:
JHH: I'm not feeling good.
T: What is it?
JHH: I've got a stomachache. (gives trainer a sidelong glance while holding her head down)
T: A stomachache, huh?
JHH: Uhh, yeah.
T: Well, I've got something for you. (Reaching into his medical bag and emerging with two hunks of what appears to be coal) These are lumps. You should take them, and get on with it.
Even Henin-Hardenne admitted in her presser that she knew she'd be over her 'infirmity' in a couple of days. Yet she expressed concern about causing another injury. Which serves as another lesson for amateur tennis players: You've got to stay on top of a stomachache, because you never know when it'll burn a hole through your kidney.
What Henin-Hardenne said, in essence, was 'If I'm losing, why should I keep playing?' Good question, especially for Andy Roddick, and Lleyton Hewitt, neither of whom can catch a break against Roger Federer? They can't go out there with any realistic chance of beating him, can they?
Yes. As Herm Edwards so eloquently put it, "You play to win the game." If the outcome was predetermined, no one would care. If everyone quit because they didn't think they had a shot, four guys wouldn't have been able to prove that Federer was beatable last year. Why even bother? Athletes have to answer that question every day. They have to balance the risks and rewards, the injuries and the accolades. The stomachache, and the opponent who's ripping you a new one.

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